The undefeated Green Bay Packers will try to become 9-0 on Monday night as they take on the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. The last Green Bay team to start a season 9-0 was the 1962 team coached by Vince Lombardi.
Like this team, that Lombardi squad was coming off a NFL title the year before. The 1961-62 version of the Packers won 12 straight games. The 2010-11 version of the Packers are currently on a 14 game winning streak, which is a new team record.
The Packers defeated the Vikings 33-27 on Oct. 23 in Minneapolis. There will be a number of keys to this rematch game from the perspective of the Packers.
Let us look at them shall we?
Through eight games of the 2011 season, there is no doubt that Aaron Rodgers is the MVP of the NFL up to this point. So far in the 2011 season, Rodgers has thrown 24 TD passes, compared to just three picks, for 2,619 yards and has a 129.1 QB rating. That rating leads the NFL by almost 29 points, and Rodgers has yet to have a QB rating lower than 111.4 for any game this season.
Against the Vikings, Rodgers is 4-3 lifetime and has thrown 15 TD passes to just three interceptions for 1,939 yards and has a career QB rating of 112.7. In the last meeting between the teams almost three weeks ago, Rodgers threw three TD passes without a pick for 335 yards and had a QB rating of 146.5.
Add to all of that, going into the 2011 season, Rodgers had the highest QB rating in NFL history in both the regular season (98.4) and the playoffs (112.6). Rodgers has upped his career QB rating to 102.7 with his impressive play so far in 2011.
Rodgers and the Packers won a Super Bowl in his third year as a starter, plus Rodgers was the MVP of Super Bowl XLV.
The successor to Brett Favre hasn't done too bad, huh?
When the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings met in late October in Minneapolis, Adrian Peterson rushed for 175 yards and a TD, in just 24 carries. That's a 7.3 rushing average folks. In his career against Green Bay, Peterson has rushed for 982 yards and has scored six TDs.
The Packers can expect to see a lot of Peterson again on Monday night, as rookie QB Christian Ponder will only be making his third NFL start.
The Packers normally play the run pretty well, as the Packers are ranked eighth in the NFL in run defense. The Packers have given up an average of exactly 100 rushing yards a game.
The Packers are also tied for 12th in the NFL in fumble recoveries via the run game, and although Peterson seems to have gotten over his fumbling tendencies that shadowed him earlier in his career—like losing six in 2009—I would expect the Packers to try and strip the ball as much as possible from him.
On Oct. 23, when the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings last met, Jared Allen of the Vikings had two sacks compared to second year LT Marshall Newhouse, who has been starting at LT because Chad Clifton is out with a severe hamstring injury. That's not surprising, as Allen leads the NFL in sacks in 2011 with 12.5.
Allen has been a sack machine his whole career—95.5 sacks in seven and half years—and has really blossomed since he joined the Vikings as a free agent back in 2008. Since then, Allen has 52.5 sacks.
In addition to that, Allen is very adept at forcing fumbles, as he has forced 25 fumbles in his career, including three already this year.
Allen usually comes up big against the Packers, whether it been against Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, T.J. Lang or now Newhouse. In 2009, Allen sacked Aaron Rodgers 4.5 times in just one game in fact.
The Packers must limit Allen's effectiveness by helping out Newhouse at times with chip blocks. Also, because Allen gets up the field so fast, it is a good idea to use a running play in a passing situation right at Allen's gap.
Christian Ponder had a decent day against the Green Bay Packers in his first career start, as he threw two TD passes and had 219 yards passing. However, Ponder also threw two key interceptions, plus only completed 40.6 percent of his passes. The Packers also sacked Ponder twice.
The two picks against Ponder were both by Charles Woodson, who is tied for the NFL lead with five interceptions overall. Woodson also returned one of those picks for a TD. That has become a norm for the Green Bay secondary.
Right now, the Packers are ranked 31st in pass defense in the NFL. There are a number of reasons for that. One, the season ending neck injury to S Nick Collins. Two, teams throw often on the Packers because they are usually behind. Three, the secondary is having some occasional communication mix-ups in coverage. Most of that comes back to the absence of Collins, who was an All-Pro and a Pro Bowl safety.
Still, even with all that, the Packers lead the entire NFL with 16 interceptions and have returned three of those picks for TDs, including two last week against Phillip Rivers and the Chargers.
I expect the Packers to show different coverage looks to try and confuse the rookie QB out of Florida State. A good pass rush wouldn't hurt either.
When the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings met last, the game was on the line with the Packers holding a precarious 33-27 lead with 2:30 left in the game. Although James Starks only had 20 yards rushing at that point, the Packers decided to try and run out the clock with Starks running the ball.
The result? Starks had six carries for 55 yards in that drive and the Packers did indeed run out the clock. It's become pretty apparent that the Packers lean on Starks in crunch time, although Ryan Grant still gets some snaps at RB too.
Starks had 66 yards rushing against the Chargers last week, and for the season now has 440 yards rushing, plus has a very healthy 4.6 yard rushing average. Starks is also the third down running back that the Packers use most often and he has become an effective blocker against the blitz, plus has 19 receptions for 146 yards.
So far in 2011, Mason Crosby is a perfect 15 out of 15 in field goal attempts. Crosby has also hit two bombs from well over 50 yards out. The first was 56 yard field goal, against the Atlanta Falcons, and the other was from 58 yards out against this week's opponent, the Minnesota Vikings.
Crosby is certainly having a Pro Bowl year no doubt, as he has also hit all 32 of his extra point attempts too. For the season, Crosby has 77 points, which has him for fifth in the NFL in scoring.
Ironically, Crosby's kicking opponent on Monday night will be Ryan Longwell of the Vikings. Longwell is the all-time scoring leader in Green Bay history with 1,054 points.
Crosby is also tied for third in touchback kicks in the NFL with 29, plus has been successful on his only onside kick of the season.
The Green Bay Packers rank 17th in the NFL in sacks with 19. The team leader in sacks is a linebacker. But, not the one you might be thinking of. Desmond Bishop leads the Packers with four sacks, while Clay Matthews has three. Matthews is often doubled teamed as he tries to get to the passer because of his pass rushing prowess.
One of the big reasons why the Packers are having trouble getting to the quarterback this year is the loss of DE Cullen Jenkins to free agency. Jenkins was second on the team in sacks last year with seven, and now already has five with the Philadelphia Eagles this year.
The heir apparent to Jenkins was supposed to be DE Mike Neal, but Neal has been out all year so far due to a knee injury. That could soon change however, as Neal practiced with the Packers on Thursday, although in a somewhat limited basis.
Of the 19 sacks for the Packers so far, 14 of them have come from the linebacker position and secondary. Only five have come from the defensive line. Jarius Wynn has three sacks, while B.J. Raji has two.
Hopefully Neal can improve those numbers when he gets back on the field.
The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV in February after first winning three road games in very hostile environments, as the sixth seeded team in the NFC. The Packers had to first win in Philadelphia, a place where the Packers had never won a playoff game. Even under Vince Lombardi, as he suffered his only postseason defeat there.
Head coach Mike McCarthy had the Packers focused to not only win in Philly, but also Atlanta and then Chicago. McCarthy has continued that road warrior mentality in 2011, as the Packers are already 5-0 on the road.
Under McCarthy, the Packers have won 14 games in a row now over two seasons, which is a new team record. The first part of the 2011 season has been perfect in terms of the record. Now, it's time to begin the second half of the schedule. It starts with a game against the Vikings.
McCarthy has fared well coaching against the Vikings, as he is 8-3 against Minnesota in his career.
I also don't see the Packers losing much focus as the 2011 season progresses, not with players like Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Scott Wells, Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji in the fold.
Aaron Rodgers is spreading the wealth among his offensive weapons, in terms of receptions by each player. Look at these statistics for these players through 8 games...
Greg Jennings- 48 receptions for 723 yards and 6 TDs
Jermichael Finley- 30 receptions for 378 yards and 5 TDs
Jordy Nelson- 29 receptions for 570 yards and 5 TDs
James Jones- 20 receptions for 347 yards and 4 TDs
Donald Driver- 15 receptions for 125 yards and 2 TDs
Randall Cobb- 11 receptions for 187 yards and 1 TD
Rodgers has also completed 35 passes to his running backs, as well as four more to the other tight ends.
Sometimes, Rodgers will throw the ball to option number one. Or sometimes to option number's two, three or four. It just depends on who is open. Rodgers will not force a ball into coverage. You can see that with his paltry total of three interceptions thus far in 2011. Two of those three interceptions were also deflected off the hands of receivers for the Packers before they were picked off.
The Green Bay Packers have lost both of their starting offensive tackles for some time this year, but the Packers are still 8-0.
Because, the players that have filled in have done their jobs. Ted Thompson utilized the 2010 and 2011 NFL drafts to shore up the quality depth at that position.
Going into the 2010 season, the Packers were starting two guys who had come out of the 2000 NFL draft and had been bookends for the offensive line of the Packers for over a decade. I'm speaking of LT Chad Clifton and RT Mark Tauscher.
In the 2010 NFL draft, Thompson selected OT Bryan Bulaga in the first round and then OT Marshall Newhouse in the fifth round. Bulaga ended up starting most of the season at RT, after Tauscher went down with a shoulder injury and ended up on injured reserve. Bulaga more than held his own at RT, although he was up and down a bit at times.
Newhouse didn't see any game action in 2010 and then ended up on IR after a back injury in late December.
In 2011, Thompson used his first round pick on OT Derek Sherrod. Sherrod received an opportunity to get some work at G, just like Bulaga had done the year before in training camp, but it was soon very apparent that Sherrod was a much better OT.
But, it was Newhouse that opened the eyes of the coaching staff in training camp and in essence he became the team's third offensive tackle. When Bulaga missed two games after a knee injury, it was Newhouse who filled in admirably.
Then in the Atlanta game, Clifton went down with a severe hamstring pull. Newhouse moved to LT, while Sherrod played RT. After a few anxious moments, both played well enough to see the Packers come back to win 25-14, after trailing by two touchdowns.
Bulaga returned to start at RT for the St. Louis game, while Newhouse still remains at LT until Clifton is cleared to return. Bottom line, Thompson has made OT a much deeper and talented position based on his work in the last two NFL drafts.
The Green Bay Packers have not lost a Monday Night Football game at Lambeau Field since 2005, which happened ironically against the Minnesota Vikings.
The last time the Packers played a Monday Night Football game at Lambeau Field was a little less than two years ago, when the Packers defeated the Baltimore Ravens 27-14.
Overall, the Packers are 27-29-1 on Monday Night Football. The Packers are 11-6 all-time playing at Lambeau on MNF.
Expect the crowd to be in a festive mood on Monday night, as this will only be the second time the Packers have hosted a Monday night game the year after winning the Super Bowl. The first was when the Packers hosted the Chicago Bears, on opening weekend in 1997, and won 38-24.
The Packers did host the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night football at Lambeau Field to open the 2011 season, and that truly was a carnival atmosphere, which also produced an exciting 42-34 win as well for the Packers.